Thursday, May 29, 2014

WHERE'S WALDO being added to The Foul Among the Good

Last week, Sharon H. Chang tweeted a couple of images from a 1987 copy of Where's Waldo (by Martin Handford, published by Little, Brown) that I am adding to AICL's page, The Foul Among the Good. Here they are:

My response?

May 29, 2014

Dear Waldo,

Yes, in fact, I've seen that a lot in children's picture books and in dog photos created by people who apparently don't know much about Native peoples. For us, feathers are not playthings. They are sacred. I am guessing you know that eagles are protected in the United States. I'm guessing that you do not know that there are also laws that recognize that eagle feathers have religious significance to Native people. If you want to know a bit more about it, the New York Times ran a story about this in 2011

I'd also like to note, Waldo, that your depiction of "Indian" people is stereotypical. You drew a tipi, the fringed clothing, and what I think you meant to be a "peace pipe." There are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations in the U.S. Rather than anything meaningful, you're giving your readers monolithic imagery that doesn't do anyone any good. 

I'm hoping that line in your post card, the dog, and the tipi are gone from later editions of your book. 

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

COPPER MAGIC by Julia Mary Gibson, or, an emphatic "Cut it out!" from AICL

In Copper Magic, twelve-year-old Violet Blake is digging by a stream near her house in Michigan and finds a "talisman" -- a copper hand that she comes to call "the Hand." Violet feels that this hand has some kind of power. She thinks she can use it to make wishes come true. Course, her first wish (for a new dress) does come true (actually she gets TWO new dresses), so she's thinking about how she'll use it to get her mom and little brother back home. Her mother is half Odawa.

Well, it turns out there was more than just that copper hand in the spot where Violet was digging. There's also a skeleton there that is dug up (another kid finds it), reassembled, and displayed as a curiosity in a local hotel.

Cue some fake Hollywood Indian music...

Can't be messing around in them Indian burial grounds, right?! We've seen THAT enough times in movies and TV shows to know that messing with bones and artifacts means bad things are gonna happen. And of course, bad things happen to the people in Copper Magic. Lots of bad things. A wicked storm. Lake water behaving in odd ways. Death. Before all that happens, Mercy (Violet's new friend) talks about how there might be a curse on the grave... Violet and her mother (remember--her mom is half Odawa) have special powers, too. They can see things other people can't.


Cut that fake Hollywood Indian music, that is, and an emphatic "Cut it out!" as my parents would say when I was doing something wrong.

Cut it out, Julia Mary Gibson! 
Cut it out, Susan Cooper! 
Cut it out, Rosanne Parry!

"Cut what?" you may wonder... Quit writing about Native spirituality! You mean well, but you don't know what you're doing. From a place of ignorance, you're adding to an already-too-tall pile of garbage that gets circulated as information about Native people.

A good many writers have a moment in their life that touched them in such a way that they feel they must write about Native people. Gibson's moment is described in her Afterword. When she was eleven years old, she and her family found some bones near their summer cottage in Michigan. "[A]n expert" said they were "most likely American Indian but not old enough to be archeologically significant" (p. 329), so her grandfather "pieced together a skeleton and mounted it on plywood." Her "superstitious" grandma didn't like it and insisted the bones be reburied. This took place in the late 1960s or early 1970s (my guess, based on Gibson's bio at Macmillan that says she was born "in the time of Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War").

Gibson goes on to say that her grandfather didn't know better.

In Copper Magic, Violet is Gibson. The person who puts the skeleton on display is Mr. Dell, a hotel owner intent on increasing his business. The superstitious person who wants the bones reburied? Well, that is Mrs. Agosa, an Odawa woman who tells Violet to "Watch out for ghosts out by you" because "mad ghosts can throw out curses" (p. 134).

Gibson, Cooper, Parry and many other writers poke around a bit and pack their stories with bits of info that make it sound like they know a lot about American Indians. Gibson does that in Copper Magic when she has some of her characters talk about grave robbing and why it is wrong. She also does that when she has Mrs. Agosa talk about the hotel owner burning her people's village and orchards because he wanted their land. In the Afterword, Gibson tells us that part of the story is true (p. 330):
"The real people of the Chaboiganing Band were yanked from their houses by a crooked land grabber and the local sheriff, who flung kerosene over homes and orchards and burned down the whole village, just as Mrs. Agosa tells it."
The burning of that village is important information. It is what major publishers like Macmillan (publisher of Copper Magic) ought to make known. I wish Gibson had made it the heart of her story. Instead, she chose to tell a story about grave robbing, curses, and mystical Indians. There's more to the "mystical Indians" theme... Interspersed throughout Copper Magic are pages about two ancient women: Crooked Woman and Greenstone. Those parts of Gibson's novel are presented in italics. They feed the mainstream monster of stereotypical expectations--where people love to read about "mystical Indians" and our tragic history.

In Copper Magic, Violet's dad is a steady voice saying that Indian graves deserve respect and ought to be left alone. Violet parrots some of what he says but doesn't really understand. Ironically, Gibson is more like Violet than she realizes. Her understanding is superficial. Violet wants to use the hand to get what she wants. Gibson uses the childhood story to do what she wants.

As you may have guessed by now, I don't like what Gibson has done in Copper Magic. And of course, I do not recommend it. Copper Magic is another FAIL from a major publisher (published in 2014 by Starscape, which is in Macmillan's Tor/Forge line.)